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Jazz Remembered

Louis Stewart


Ollie Dowling of Quality Music in Dublin has been championing guitarist Louis Stewart for a long time. It was only a matter of months ago that Ollie was publicising Louis' regular gigs at J J Smyth's Dublin venue in Aungier Street and then when Louis became ill, keeping me updated about his progress. Sadly, Louis didn't pull through and passed through the Departure Lounge on 20th August. Since then, many people have paid tribute to his contribution to jazz.

Click here for a video of Louis Stewart playing at J J Smyth's in Dublin with the Phil Ware Trio.

Louis Stewart was born in Waterford and started out professionally in playing with Dublin showbands. (Readers might recall John Doyle's recent article about the distinctive nature of Irish Showbands - click here). When Louis played at the Montreaux Jazz Festival with pianist Jim Doherty in 1968, he received the award for 'Outstanding European Soloist' and was offered a scholarship to attend Berklee College Of Music. Instead he joined Benny Goodman's band in 1970.

Here's a video of Louis with Benny Goodman playing Rose Room and Honeysuckle Rose. Billy Higgins is the pianist.




Louis began recording with his own band in 1976. Louis the First's sidemen included Martin Walshe, John Wadha, Red Mitchell, Sam Jones and Spike Robinson. Later he began touring with George Shearing and eight albums followed often with bassist Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen. The NewLouis Stewart with Mundell Lowe and Peter IndYork Times wrote: "Mr. Stewart seems to have his musical roots in be-bop. He leans toward material associated with Charlie Parker and he spins out single-note lines that flow with an unhurried grace, colored by sudden bright, lively chorded phrases. His up-tempo virtuosity is balanced by a laid-back approach to ballads, which catches the mood of the piece without sacrificing the rhythmic emphasis that keeps it moving."





Peter Ind, Mundell Lowe and Louis Stewart in 1993
Photograph courtesy of Brian O'Connor, Images Of Jazz








A video of Louis and Jim Doherty playing Charlie Parker's Donna Lee.




A blog on Jazz Guitar Online says: My favourite session he is on is playing live with the Tubby Hayes Quartet in 1969 on a BBC radio jazz programme - I'm not sure if this session ever got an official release but there are bootlegs of it floating around.

"His major recognition came on the BBC Jazz Club shows of December 18th 1968 and April 9th 1969.The first was the radio "debut" of Tubby's new quartet with Louis Stewart, Ron Mathewson and Spike Wells, and on the programme they appeared opposite the Joe Harriott quintet comprising Joe, Kenny Wheeler, Pat Smythe, Ron Mathewson (again!) and Bill Eyden, who played a wonderfully mixed repertoire by Kenny Wheeler, Ornette Coleman, Horace Silver and Joe himself.

Tubby had formed the quartet with Louis in late summer 1968, after the famous "Mexican Green" line-up of Mike Pyne, Ron Mathewson and Tony Levin had disintegrated following Tubby's drug-related period of seclusion. In fact, hearing that Hayes was looking for a guitarist, Stewart, who'd barely been in London a few weeks, decided to introduce himself to Tubby; "It was all very casual at first" he told writer Tony Wilson shortly afterwards, Tubby said it was the kind of thing he was looking for. Initially we rehearsed a lot. some of Tubby's compositions are quite unusual...there are some fast tempos that I haven't experienced. If Tubby wants to keep me, I'll be happy".

Tubby was indeed very satisfied with Stewart, as he wrote later that year;"he handles the difficult 'comping' role unobtrusively and with taste in Louis Stewartthe absence of a piano in the quartet. In this role he follows Terry Shannon, Gordon Beck and Mike Pyne, and when I say I do not miss the piano, it is meant as the highest compliment".


Click here for a video of Tubby Hayes Big Band playing at Ronnie Scott's club in 1970. We think that's Louis Stewart taking a solo starting at about 4.58.


Louis Stewart in 2014
Photograph courtesy of Ollie Dowling


Louis Stewart composed a number of pieces based on the work of James Joyce, several of which appeared on the albums Milesian Source and Joycenotes. 'A brilliant sound allied to a crystal-clear tone has helped to make Stewart one of the outstanding guitarists in jazz. A virtuoso technique allows him to realize fully his endless inventiveness.'



Click here for a video of The Ballad from Joycenotes.


But Louis' home town was Dublin. He was recognised in 1998 with an honorary doctorate from the city's university and in 2009 he was elected to Aosdána, an Irish co-operative of artists engaged in literature, music and visual arts. Aosdána was established by the Irish Arts Council in 1981 to honour those whose work has made an outstanding contribution to the creative arts in Ireland.

Here's a video of Louis Stewart playing Fascinating Rhythm with Stephane Grapelli at Belfast Grand Opera House in 1986.




Click here for more videos of Louis.


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